The Toronto Blue Jays and their fans still have the sweet taste of success in their mouths after reaching the ALCS each of the past two seasons. Unfortunately, things have not gone according to plan this season, as the Blue Jays are at best long shots to reach the postseason. Understandably, the club and its fan base are eager to get back to winning as soon as possible. However, if the Blue Jays want to get back to competing for championships, now is the time to tear it all down and start from scratch.
Blue Jays management has suggested that they will be both buyers and sellers at this year’s trade deadline. Ideally, Toronto would like to bring in players who can help keep them relevant this season while also adding players who can help them reload in 2018 and make another deep postseason run. The Yankees took a similar tactic last year, and because of it, they are firmly in the playoff hunt this year. But that may not be a winning formula for the Blue Jays.
“We really enter any junction in time, and certainly trade deadline is one of those opportunities, where our sole focus is to get better. Get better could be in the short-term, for the rest of this year, although it’s highly unlikely it would be rental-type guys, or it could be get better this year and in subsequent years, as well. Trade deadline presents one window of opportunity for us to improve the team, and we are going to want to get better this year, too, that’s for sure.”
Mark Shapiro, Blue Jays President
Toronto has one of the oldest rosters in baseball, which makes it hard to foresee the team rebounding next season. Older players like Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin, and Josh Donaldson are on the wrong side of 30 and already seeing a drop-off in their production. The idea that Toronto can bounce back next year would require those players to perform like stars. But in reality, the best days for all three of those players are likely behind them.
The Blue Jays also lack the farm system that can help them compete in 2018. The Yankees, for instance, have several young players playing prominent roles (Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, etc). But most of Toronto’s top prospects are at least a year away from breaking into the big leagues and perhaps two or three years from becoming impact players. The Blue Jays have almost no prospects who will be ready to step into a prominent role by opening day 2018, and that will make it difficult to reload for next year.
Even if the Blue Jays throw in the towel on 2017, it’ll be hard for them to reload for 2018. Trading away players without guaranteed contracts for next season like Jose Bautista, Marco Estrada, Francisco Liriano, and Joe Smith won’t be enough. Those players have minimal value on the trade market. More importantly, the Blue Jays don’t have top prospects waiting in triple-A to take their spot.
The best strategy for the Blue Jays would be to trade players who are under contract for next season and beyond; those are the players who have the most trade value. Dealing Martin and Tulowitzki will be next to impossible given their contracts, but players like Donaldson, J.A. Happ, Marcus Stroman, Justin Smoak, and others could all be useful trade chips. The Blue Jays won’t have to trade all of their core players, but anyone who’s not under contract for 2019 or 2020 should be on the table.
If the Blue Jays can find a way to trade a few players for more young talent, they can set themselves up well for 2019, 2020, and beyond. Most of Toronto’s best prospects are still in A-ball, with a few scattered in double-A. But almost none of them project to make a difference this year or next year. Toronto needs to realize that competing in the short-term will be difficult. However, there’s enough young talent in the organization, including some already in the majors, to return to prominence by 2020, possibly 2019.
“I do think we can build that team without that cycle occurring here, but how we’re situated at the moment might cause for one transitional period between now and getting there. If we build this organization through our philosophy with an obsessive focus on acquiring and developing the best young talent and strategically building a balanced major-league roster, we will have an opportunity to sustain a championship-calibre team.”
It may not be easy for the Blue Jays, or their fan base, to essentially punt the rest of this season and next season, especially on the heels of back-to-back trips to the ALCS. But it’s time to face reality; the current core of the team isn’t enough to compete with the best teams in baseball. However, if the Blue Jays go about things the right way, a couple years of rebuilding could pay big dividends down the line.